R esearch Officer, Archaeology Institute
of the National Science Academy of Ukraine,
Scientific Director, Trypillian Museum in Trypillia
Seven thousand years ago, hunting tribes inhabited much of Eurasia. In the midst of these developments, like oases, grain-growing civilizations began to develop on the Balkan Peninsula. On the eastern edge of this grain-growing region there emerged the Trypillian civilization, that of the ancient farmers of Ukraine.
The Trypillia culture prevailed in the forest-steppe region of Ukraine, from the upper Dniester River on the west to mid Dnipro River on the east.
Thus far about 2000 Trypillian sites have been found in Ukraine. These include settlements, burial grounds and barren grounds. Archaeologists have been investigating this ancient civilization for more than a hundred years. They have found thousands of masterpieces of ancient art and artifacts, which help to illuminate the ancient history of this culture.
Establishing settlements on the open forest-steppe assisted the people of Trypillia to increase their population and improve their wellbeing. The known settlements were not permanent as the Trypillians periodically moved. These ancient farmers cultivated wheat, barley, peas and legumes. According to paleobotanists, these crops were pure and the fields where in use for long periods of time. Crops were harvested using sickles with silicon inserts.
Spore-pollen analyses provide us with the opportunity to describe the flora, which surrounded Trypillia settlements 6000 years ago. Plantain grew near houses and along roads; nettle around settlements. Slopes of ravines were covered with rich motley grass, red mallow, white bindweed and pinks. Cornflowers displayed their blue color among wheat fields. Stands of willows, alder and nut-trees could be seen above steams and creeks. The oak and hornbeam woods were inhabited with bison, deer, wild boars, bears, wolves, foxes and hares.
Trypillian people cut down thousands of trees using stone and copper axes to build their dwellings. At the beginning their settlements were small, from seven to fourteen buildings, but with time cities with thousands of structures appeared. The houses had wire frame-columnar construction. The walls were made of wood or rods, and then coated with a mixture of clay and bran. This type of dwelling originated during the Trypillia epoch and exists in the forest-steppe regions of Ukraine even today.
We have found clay models of dwellings and temples made by the Trypillians. Among these are both single and double storied models. Long-term excavations have proved the existence of many-storied structures during the Trypillia epoch. Floors were made of wood and coated with clay, much like the walls. The second floor was used as living quarters, the ground floor for household purposes. The floor and the walls were painted with red and white colors and decorated with geometrical ornamental patterns to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. Inhabited rooms were heated with open fire and stoves. There was a long clay bench along one of the inside walls to store crockery. Often there were clay mortars near the bench, with built-in stones for grinding grains into flour.
A single rounded window was located in a wall opposite to the entrance. Opposite the window there was also a rounded or cruciform clay altar. The altar was painted red and decorated with a spiral ornamental pattern. A typical Trypillian dwelling occupied an area from 60-100 up to 200-300 sq. meters. In addition to the dwellings, public buildings and temples have also been found
One of the mysteries of the Trypillia culture are the remnants of thousands of burned buildings found by archaeologists. Among the ruins can be found, tens to hundreds of vessels, statuettes of people and animals, tools, and bones of animals and, sometimes, of people. Initial evaluation of this culture by V. Khvoika concluded that these ruins were "homes of the dead". Other archaeologists have tried to prove that these burned ruins were just normal dwellings. But modern researchers feel it makes sense to combine both of these conclusions. It is now believed that for a long period of time these structures served the people as temples, houses, and barns. But after a period of time, all structures became "houses of the dead" - shelters for the souls of ancestors. All these wonderful vessels, tools, meat of sacrificial animals became a rich offering to the spirits of their ancestors. It was necessary to burn out such houses, as well as the entire settlement, and then to move on to another location, to new fields and lands, having left the old fields to the ancestors. This custom, which is a thousand years older then the Trypillia culture, came from the old pre-civilization of the Balkans where the first farmers of Europe settled. This cycle, consecrated by a thousand year old tradition, consisted of construction of new structures and settlements every 60-80 years.
The periodic resettlement required strong community organization utilizing the collective efforts of all its members. Such activity can be compared to the construction of channels and dams in the Ancient East. This high level of organization assisted the Trypillians in establishing the first cities in Europe between 5000 and 4000 B. C. When “history began in Sumer", ruins of tens of Trypillian cities, between the Bug and Dnipro rivers, were already covered with rich grasses of the Forest-Steppe.
The largest Trypillian cities existed over six thousand years ago. Their size is amazing: hundreds of hectares in area, thousands of dwellings, and a population estimated at 10,000-15,000 people. The strong fortification, which was made of hundreds of two and even three-story buildings densely attached one to the other, protected the inhabitants. The population of these cities was engaged primarily in agriculture, although there were also craftsmen such as potters, blacksmiths, and weavers.
When scientists search for roots of the people who lived on the territory of Ukraine, they look to Trypillian times. Trypillia is the first bread, the first metal, the beginning of a new philosophy in the area that is now known as Ukraine. The creators of the Trypillia civilization made an important contribution to Ukrainian tradition as well as to the formation of European civilization.